I wiped my chin free of any spittle that may have escaped during my tirade and squeezed my eyes shut, chest heaving.
“You really need to get laid,” Will whispered in awe.
Max rested his enormous hand on my shoulder. “He’s right, mate. This is more serious than I thought.”
“Oh, shut the f**k up,” I hissed, shoving his hand away and starting to walk down the beach. “It may be my mistake but you’re all just as fucked. If Chloe wins this week you’re all toast. Every man in the world is toast and will suffer like no one has suffered before. I don’t like it—didn’t plan it—but those are the stakes we’re all now facing.”
Max shook his head, falling into step beside me. “It’s not just you who needs to get laid, Ben. Chloe hasn’t been herself this week, either. Maybe your strategy here is off.”
I slowed to a stop again. “What are you talking about? You saw her last night; she was being a royal pain in the ass. How is that ‘not herself’?”
“All this marriage business has definitely made you soft if you think that was Chloe being a pain in the arse,” Max said. “You two are the most volatile people I’ve ever met. Some days it’s like watching two cartoon characters having a go at each other. And the Chloe Mills I’ve heard stories about would have ripped off your tackle and made you eat it to get what she wanted. She would have tied you to a chair and tortured you until you were begging her to f**k you. What’d she do last night? Wear a short dress? Shake her tits in your direction? That’s the same woman that had straight-laced Bennett breaking all the rules and f**king her all over RMG? I don’t buy it.”
“Will, tell him your nerdy theory,” Max said. “It’s really quite brilliant.”
Will took a step closer, leaning in conspiratorially. “Have you ever heard of the calm before the storm? That moment right before a tornado or large weather occurrence when everything goes completely still?”
“I think so,” I said, absolutely not liking the sound of that and how it could relate to Chloe, but curious despite myself. “Yeah.”
Will got this really intense expression, like everything he was about to tell you was the most fascinating thing he’d ever heard. He sort of bent at the knees, using his hands to gesture wildly, dramatically illustrating any point he might have. “So vapor and heat rise, drawn up toward the center of a storm. The updrafts remove some of the saturated air, forcing it up and over the highest clouds. You following me so far?” he asked. I nodded, feeling a thread of anxiety form in my chest.
“He’s getting to the fascinating part,” Max assured me.
“So you have all this air rising, but it compresses as it falls, leaving it warmer and dryer. Calm”—he said, pausing for effect—“resulting in a stable air mass, dampening cloud formation and leaving the air totally still. The calm before the storm.”
Max was already nodding; clapping Will on the back like he’d just explained the most clever analogy ever told.
Max reached out, put a solid grip on my shoulder. “What we’re saying, mate, is that you think you’re keeping your bird in check. But we’re all waiting for your little bomb to explode.”I watched Chloe like a hawk the rest of the day, and as terrified as I was to admit it, Max and Will had a point.
She didn’t give me an ounce of fight when I got back to the room and showered alone. When I kissed her bare shoulder, she smiled at me warmly, but without the slightly terrifying look in her eyes like I would either be f**ked to within an inch of my life or eaten for breakfast. She was wrapped in a towel, skin still damp from her shower as she blow-dried her hair. She didn’t comment on the fact that she was na**d, she didn’t ask to “help” me get dressed. She didn’t ask me to f**k her once.
She was accommodating and loving, and I was completely confused.
When the waiter messed up her order at breakfast, she didn’t react. When her aunts insisted on following her around with a camera, going so far as to film her from the opposite side of the bathroom stall, she stayed calm. When my mother suggested Chloe wear her hair down instead of up for the ceremony, Chloe had only responded with a pained smile.
By this point I could practically smell the storm in the air, and we hadn’t even started the rehearsal yet.“What do you mean ‘small’ accident?” I said, focusing on the wedding coordinator before quickly glancing to Chloe. She was about thirty feet down the beach, pacing. A few swear words had floated back to us at first but now she was sort of strangely silent, arms folded over her chest as she walked along the sand.
I frowned, but quickly shot my attention back to our wedding coordinator, Kristin, as she launched into an explanation.
“It’s going to be fine, Bennett,” she was saying, words delivered in a way I’m sure I was supposed to find comforting, but only resulted in pissing me off. When things went wrong you screamed at someone. You became the loudest and squeakiest wheel; you let everyone know that anything less than perfect was unacceptable. You slammed doors and fired people. You didn’t stand there in your little blue Chanel suit and pearls and tell the cyborg bride and clueless groom that it would be fine.
“There’s been a tiny little problem with the wedding clothes.”
Small accident. Tiny little problem. These adjectives didn’t really fit the feeling of dread that had begun clawing its way up my throat. “The garments were dropped off earlier today, but when the bags were opened we realized there’d been some sort of miscommunication and nothing had been pressed. It’s a minor thing, Bennett. I wouldn’t even bother you with it if Chloe hadn’t been there and seen it for
So Chloe had already seen bags of wrinkled wedding clothes and hadn’t gone nuclear. I sighed, blinking across the beach to where a few rows of temporary seating had already been set up. Chloe’s aunts were sitting on either side of Will, who had his hands folded in his lap and looked . . . tense. In fact, he looked a lot like he was deciding if he could bolt and escape this event entirely. Hanna was chatting with Mina but would look over occasionally to glance at him, and her small smile would invariably turn into the biggest shit-eating grin I’d ever seen. She was going to make an excellent ally in the years ahead.
Max and Sara were off . . . somewhere. I actually rolled my eyes when I realized they hadn’t made it down from their room yet. God, I hated him. My family stood waiting for the rehearsal to begin, talking among themselves.
Kristin smiled. “Everything’s already been taken back to
the cleaners and it will be done in the morning. They’ve promised to drop everything off tomorrow before one.”
“The wedding is tomorrow at four,” I said, running a hand through my hair. “Don’t you think that’s cutting it a little close?”
“Not good enough. I’ll pick them up myself.”
Having overheard, my brother stepped up and placed a hand on Kristin’s shoulder. “Just nod,” Henry said. “It’s easier that way, trust me.”The rest of the wedding party arrived and I made my way over to Chloe. The pacing had stopped and she was sitting on the beach now, her delicate pink dress pulled up the length of her legs, toes buried in the sand.
“You ready to do the rehearsal?” I asked, testing the waters. I reached out and helped pull her to her feet, taking her hand as we walked toward the others. “You seem a little quiet.”
She shook her head. “I’m fine,” she said simply, and moved to stand where Kristin had indicated.
Okay then. I looked up at the sky, actually expecting clouds to have formed overhead.
The thing that had always driven me crazy about Chloe was that I couldn’t ignore her, whether she was in a room, or out of it. It had been that way since the day we met. I wanted her every second of every day, and it pissed me off. I’d lash out at her for distracting me and she’d dish it right back. This only resulted in my wanting her more. Always.
Even now, standing on the other side of the aisle as we listened to the Honorable James Marsters, our officiant, explain where we would be and when, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
“Bennett?” I heard someone say, and looked up, surprised to find everyone watching me, waiting. The distinctive sound of Max’s laughter floated up from somewhere over my shoulder and I mentally flipped him off. “Are you ready to run through it?” Kristin said, slowly, as if it wasn’t the first time she’d asked.
I frowned, annoyed to have zoned out. I was pretty sure it was important for me to know what the hell was going on. “Of course.”
“Okay then. Guys?” Kristin said. “Can we get the wedding party to line up?”
A murmur of voices surrounded us and we turned to watch as everyone got into their places near the end of the aisle.
As best man, Henry lined up first, offering his arm to Sara.
“All right, everyone,” Kristin announced, “let me explain what will happen. Best man and maid of honor will line up on this section of Windsor lawn. The chairs will begin here,” she said, moving down the aisle and motioning to a spot near the edge of the grass, “and move this way up toward the beach. Approximately three hundred and fifty of them—just beyond the two orchid arrangements—which will be placed right here.” Kristin reached for Henry and Sara and moved them into their spots. “Okay, first bridesmaid and groomsman?”
Julia stepped forward, but so did both Max and Will.
Max clucked his tongue at Will, reaching out to take Julia’s arm. “This lovely one’s mine, mate.”
“But I thought—” Will asked, searching the area. “Where’s my bridesmaid?”
“Right here, pretty boy.” I looked behind Will to see our fourth bridesmaid, Sara’s assistant, George, step up to the line, and reach for Will’s arm.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Will said, then jumped and let out what could only be considered a manly squeak as Chloe’s aunts passed by, one of them laying a sharp pinch on his ass.
“Looks like you might have a bit of a fight on your hands there,” Max said to George. “Those two ladies look like they could take you if things went badly.”
“Oh hell no,” George said in the direction the aunts had gone. “Those two cougars better watch their Raquel Welch wiglets because until that hot piece of ass and the ice queen are married tomorrow night, Sumner here is mine.”
“And mine,” Mina said, taking Will’s other arm. “This lucky man gets both of us.”
George leaned over to smile at Mina. “Are you willing to be inappropriate at all times?”
Mina winked. “Every second of every day.”
Chloe turned to Kristin. “Will there be an open bar? Like, at the end of the aisle? For me? Can I request that?”
“What is even happening here?” Will said, looking to each of us and then back to wherever the cougars had wandered off to. “Am I drunk? Hanna, they just pinched my ass and this one”—he motioned to George—“wants to claim me for his own. A little help?”
Hanna took a sip off her frilly girl drink, complete with big pink umbrella and some sort of neon glow stick. “I don’t know, you seem to be doing pretty well on your own there,” she said, then took another long pull of her straw. Hanna really wasn’t much of a drinker; I was willing to bet anyone at that resort that she’d be asleep in the sand within the hour.
“Jesus Christ, is everyone on something because I want some of whatever it is,” Will grumbled, reaching for George’s arm and looping it through his. “And don’t try to lead,” he told George, before offering his other arm to Mina.
“Now that that’s settled,” Kristin said with a sigh. “Let’s get everyone lined up.” The wedding party fell into place and stood quietly, paying attention. For once. “Okay, good. Chloe, you’re back here. Father of the bride?”
Frederick took his spot next to Chloe and we moved through the ceremony. Thank God all I had to do was walk my mother to her seat because really, this all seemed very complicated and Chloe’s br**sts looked amazing in that
When my bride-to-be finally reached me at the altar, I took her hands and we both turned toward the officiant, the increasingly senile older gent with thinning gray hair, and dull blue eyes he had to narrow in order to focus on the text.
Chloe was unusually quiet, nodding in all the appropriate places but not offering anything more. A part of me was beginning to worry that this amounted to more than just a case of pre-wedding nerves. I’d just made the decision to take her aside as soon as we’d finished when the Honorable James Marsters said, “And then I will pronounce you man and wife, and then Bennett . . .”
I watched Chloe’s head snap up, her brows drawn together as if she had to have misheard.
“What did you just say?” she asked, waiting intently, and for a moment I thought, Yes, there’s the fire, there’s the woman Max was talking about this morning.
And then I realized what the judge had actually said that got her riled up. Oh no.
“Which part, young lady?” he asked, finger moving back over the worn words in his book, attempting to track down a phrase he could have skipped or mispronounced, something to have caused such a quick response.